Jordan Peterson's Natural Hierarchies or the Radical Egalitarianism of Jesus Christ?

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The Christian tradition began with an event of rupture, where the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was encountered as a traumatic disturbance of all existing structures of meaning-making and social belonging that turned the world as we know it inside out and upside down.

In this respect (as I unpack below), there is within the radicality of the way of life enacted by Jesus at the earliest beginnings of Christianity an insurrectionary impulse to deconstruct established value-hierarchies that is fundamentally at odds with Jordan Peterson’s principal message about the unavoidable necessity of hierarchies in human societies. As Christians who follow the work of Jordan Peterson, how are we to respond to this fundamental contradiction between the radical egalitarianism of the figure of Jesus we witness in the gospels and Peterson’s evolutionary justification of hierarchical systems of domination in human civilization?

This critical subversion of natural hierarchies in the public career of Jesus of Nazareth is one of most widely accepted conclusions of historical Jesus scholarship over the last few centuries. For instance, we see this anti-hierarchical disruption of the established order in the most memorable teachings of Jesus, who proclaimed his central message of the kingdom of God in counter-intuitive parables that disoriented and surprised his audience by subverting the value-hierarchies of their social, political and religious world with shocking reversals of meaning that exposed the inherent violence and systemic injustice of the existing order of things.

With the paradoxical madness of a very un-kingly kingdom in which the last are first, the outsiders are in, the nothings and nobodies are singled out for their exceptionality over the privileged and powerful, and the one that is lost is more valuable than the ninety-nine that are saved, the mind-bending parables of Jesus consistently shattered the social and political hierarchies of his audiences commonly accepted world, while also robbing his listeners of their defences by stripping them of those guarantees of meaning that were psychologically necessary for living, as he invoked a deep existential challenge that put his followers into question at the very core of their being.

And another one of the most uncontested historical conclusions about the figure of Jesus in the gospels is his practice of open table fellowship with sinners and outsiders, a politically disruptive form of life that treated the hierarchical value-systems of his world as utterly irrelevant to life in the kingdom of God. In a world where the banquet table functioned as a miniature map of society’s hierarchical discriminations, i.e. women served men at the table, slaves never shared a meal with their masters, the morally upright wouldn’t be seen dead eating with sinners, etc Jesus’ irreverent practice of “open commensality” – that is, of free healing and common eating with the poor and the oppressed on the fringes of society, symbolized his profoundly leftist message of radical egalitarianism, an altogether new kind of human community in which there is neither Greek nor Jew, freeman nor slave, male nor female.

And when Jesus’ radical egalitarianism is considered alongside of his socialist or communist practice of distributive justice, or free healing brought directly to the peasant homes and free sharing of whatever they had in return, the radicality of Jesus divinely inspired challenge to civilization’s eternal inclination to invoke boundaries, establish hierarchies, and maintain discriminations is undoubtedly one of the most important features of Jesus entire program.

The problem is that there really doesn’t seem to be any middle ground here. The two positions are mutually exclusive, we simply don’t find the figure of Jesus in the gospel narratives doing anything that legitimizes or attempts to naturalize social and political hierarchies - at least not without engaging in convoluted intellectual gymnastics that succeed only in diluting and domesticating the radicality of Jesus kingdom program.

And so when it comes to the bottom-up radical egalitarianism of Jesus’ central message on the kingdom of God and the system of top-down power and domination of Peterson’s central message on the necessity of natural hierarchies, we can’t bridge the gap between the two without distorting and misrepresenting either one or both sides of the equation. And so, who do we follow as Christians: Jordan Peterson or Jesus Christ?

I think this is the resolution: to value something is to create a hierarchy. But what should be the top value? What should we value most? Christ gives us the answer: we should value most the principle that transcends the hierarchy by lifting up the ones at the bottom. One can get to the top of such a hierarchy only if everyone else gets to the top of that hierarchy at the same time, thus transcending the hierarchy.

You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet (John 13:13–14).

You see that in this sentence there is both the hierarchy (lord and teacher) and the principle that flattens the hierarchy.

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In Matthew 22 : 21 Jesus says: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Using Peterson’s approach to God and hierarchy. The verse could be interpreted to say: Give hierarchies there due, while giving the utmost respect to the higher ideal(God) that created the hierarchies.

In Romans 13:1 He says: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
Again,using Peterson’s approach, there is no higher power or government unless a group of people have all come together under the umbrella of a highest ideal(God). Unfortunately not all gods are created equal, not all ideals create functioning hierarchies.